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Just three CFL games remain in the 2017 calendar year – the two division finals, and the Grey Cup. We already know we’ll have one new team appearing in the championship matchup this season – after back-to-back appearances in 2015 and 2016, the Ottawa REDBLACKS have ended their year unceremoniously. Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Roughriders continue their quest to become the first-ever crossover team to make it to the Grey Cup game – since the current playoff format was adopted in 1996, no crossover team has ever made it. Edmonton found themselves in the same position last year, but fell to the REDBLACKS 35-30 in the East final. Maybe this is the year a team can finally buck the trend…
Onto the games!
DIVISION SEMIFINAL RECAPS
East Division Semifinal
Saskatchewan 31 vs. Ottawa 20: With starting running backs Trent Richardson and Cameron Marshall both out for this game, third-stringer Marcus Thigpen got the call for Saskatchewan… and spanked the REDBLACKS up and down the field. Thigpen racked up 169 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, while Kevin Glenn, the wily 38-year-old quarterback still in pursuit of his first CFL title, had 252 passing yards on 18-28 completions for a TD and a rushing major as well. Ottawa had difficulty running the ball against a stout front seven, and so Trevor Harris ended up setting a CFL playoff record with 60 pass attempts in a game – but it wasn’t enough to keep Ottawa in the game, as they turned the ball over three times at key moments in the game. Also key was the loss of top receiver Greg Ellingson – after suffering a knee injury in the first half, he was clearly not playing at full speed, and thus was kept on the sidelines for most of the second half, including during some last-gasp offensive series in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter. After a very up-and-down year, the REDBLACKS’ hopes of repeating as Grey Cup champs come crashing down – and while I, as an Ottawa resident and noted REDBLACKS fan, am very disappointed about not being able to see the hometown team in the Grey Cup on November 26th, at least it’s likely to end up an entertaining matchup all the same.
West Division Semifinal
Edmonton 39 vs. Winnipeg 32: The Eskimos came into Winnipeg looking for vengeance; the Blue Bombers were the only team Edmonton hadn’t managed to beat yet this season. And vengeance they got. With Winnipeg QB Matt Nichols playing through a calf injury as well as a broken finger on his throwing hand, Edmonton needed a strong offensive outing to pull this game out against their Western rivals. With the game tied at 10 at halftime, the Eskimos managed to crack this one open thanks to some good sustained drives in the third quarter. With great games from Brandon Zylstra (156 receiving yards, 1 TD), Adarius Bowman (71 receiving yards, 2 TD) and CJ Gable (107 rushing yards, 2 TD), the Eskimos managed to hold off Winnipeg, which despite being down, never quit. Matt Nichols, despite his injuries, threw for 371 yards on 35-48 passing and 3 TDs, while Justin Medlock booted three field goals as well. However, thanks to the work of the Edmonton defence to hold off the Bombers in the dying minutes, despite giving up a touchdown to Winnipeg on the final play of the game, meant that they’ve punched their ticket to a division final game for the fourth straight season.
DIVISION FINAL PREVIEWS
East Division Final
(Crossover) Saskatchewan vs. (1) Toronto, Sunday, November 19th, 1:00 PM EST: Like Hansel in Zoolander, the Roughriders are so hot right now. The team won’t travel home between games, staying east to practise throughout the week before making the trip down Highways 416 and 401 from Ottawa to Toronto. This game is once again proving to be a matchup of high-octane offences; Saskatchewan’s receiver corps is deep and dangerous, though Toronto has some intriguing weapons available as well. SJ Green re-emerged from a torn ACL as one of the best receivers in the league, while rookie DeVier Posey shows tons of talent as well; the most fun part of the Argos, however, is in James Wilder Jr., part of a new emerging trend of dual-threat running backs well-suited to the open backfield of the CFL. While the Roughriders beat the Argos twice in this game, Toronto has had a bye to rest, recuperate and prepare for this matchup; plus, being the home team, even one that plays in a mausoleum, probably doesn’t hurt… Hopefully we see lots of points!
West Division Final
(2) Edmonton vs. (1) Calgary, Sunday, November 19th, 4:30 PM EST: Edmonton beat Calgary back in Week 19, after being dealt earlier back-to-back losses in early September. The Stampeders, despite ending the regular season with the league’s best record and best defence by points allowed, don’t look like the team that went blazing into last year’s Grey Cup matchup; the offence has dealt with a lot of injuries this year, to be fair, but they also lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2012 as well. Calgary’s front seven, in particular the play of DE Charleston Hughes and Canadian LB Alex Singleton, have been huge factors for defensive success, but a rash of injuries to receivers have seen the offence fall by the wayside, particularly in the passing game. The Eskimos will need to be very wary of this – while QB Bo Levi Mitchell lacks the scrambling abilities of the Eskimos’ Mike Reilly, he still has tremendous arm strength and lots of patience in the pocket. Edmonton absolutely has the advantage on the offensive side of the ball, especially with Mike Reilly getting the West Division Most Outstanding Player nomination this year, but the real question that remains will be whether the Eskimos’ defence will be able to step up and keep them in it when the offence isn’t on the field. Injuries to the Stamps or not, the Eskimos will have their hands full. Calgary won the West for a reason, after all.